Some may read this and comment hastily that I should re-assess how fortunate I am and stop whining. This isn’t about that, and this isn’t whining. I am incredibly blessed to be brought up the way I was. And I know that. So try and read this objectively.
I was born and raised in Palo Alto, the heart of Silicon Valley, with a financial powerhouse as a mother and an accountant as a father. I’m a member of the 1% and failure is not in my vocabulary. From the second I started learning, perfection was demanded and anything less denoted failure. The expectation was to be better, faster, stronger than the rest of the kids around me, and every other kid was being told the same thing. All that created was a group of kids now in and just out of college trying to fight for their happiness. Happiness was and will always be tethered to our successes, in sports, arts, academics, social gains.
100% of my graduating class went to college. Not just any colleges, mostly top tier. The “dumb” kids from my class went to UC’s or small in-state colleges. We were textbook overachievers. But now I’m sitting here as a junior in college with absolutely no idea of where my life is going. And I’m sure I’m not the only one sitting here trying to determine what path I won’t regret from my rocking chair at 85. And it’s fucking hard.
The curse is that happiness and success is tied to the dollar sign, to the title on my future office door, and to knowing that I’d be happy to have a job that allowed the freedom of going to Paris for a couple weeks. But I wish it wasn’t like that. I wish that my parents had told me that it’s okay to take the risk of failure. But as long as I’ve been able to make a decision for myself, failure has not been acceptable. My success continues to be a representation of my parents and their success or failure in raising me. Our parents may have not directly ever said this to us, but we all felt it growing up.
My dad was blessed with the opportunity to become a full time stay at home parent when I was 8 and my younger brother was born. Sure, I wasn’t a latch-key kid like many of my friends were. But I had someone on my ass at all times. Perfection checkpoints were a part of the daily routine. If I wasn’t the best, it meant I wasn’t working hard enough. God forbid the idea that someone was actually faster, better, stronger than I. And I was punished for it – more tutoring, studying, SAT practice tests. So my thought process was conditioned to feel guilt if the result was anything other than perfect.
We always were told of people’s kids who had gone rogue. They had majored in philosophy, development or god forbid, journalism. They were kids who had gone on to become a part of the Peace Corps, or built houses in developing countries, or were fighting for human rights. These were the do-gooders. Their talent, intelligence and potential had gone to waste, we were told.
They were the artists. The kids who had gone to photograph and travel around the world. To paint their sorrows away in a tiny studio in San Francisco or New York. The kids who wanted to document broken civil liberties on film, the kids who wanted to design and build houses, the kids who wanted to write screenplays as their critique of everyday life. They were the musicians. The ones who wanted to sing their hearts out because life made more sense when written and sung in a song than it did in an excel spreadsheet at 11:30pm. Their parents assumed heavy drug use and laziness. They were the rollercoaster kids, whose emotions had gotten the better of them and whose parents had given up on them because they were too hard to deal with.
These were the failures. The example made by them is comparable to why the Hunger Games exist in Panem, these kids were showcased to everyone as examples of what not to be, how not to live your life, how you would be labeled as a failure at the fault of your parents, who would quickly become the subject of country club snickering and mother’s club gossip.
I’ve always been more artistic than anything. My classmates laughed and criticized my attempts to develop that, because why would I waste time on that? It’s not like it was a plausible career direction. Because when we were all lawyers, doctors, investment bankers, CEOs, 20 years from then, they told me, I would regret having wasted my time on that. Until I got to college and started talking to real people with real dreams, I had never even considered deviating from the expected career path for fear of being part of the “failures.”
Dreams were irrational, irresponsible and not realistic. Financial prowess doesn’t count, that was not a dream, it was the minimum expectation. As William Vanderbilt was once quoted about kids of the 1%, “it is as certain death to ambition as cocaine is to morality.” I have over time realized that a lot of this pressure is driven by parents using their money to spare their kids the scars that the world can inflict, but I seriously wish my parents and everyone else’s too had let us fall on our faces and fail.
Right now the plan is to do my financial 2-year where I’ll work long hours, learn a lot and I know I’ll be paid well. And I know money will fulfill some part of my happiness quota. But I have a gut feeling I’ll be sitting in a rocking chair 60 years from now questioning why I never went for it.
I’m too afraid to go take calculus and physics and apply to architecture school for my masters. I’m too afraid to take my first album and tried to get signed by a major label. It feels irresponsible and rash. I’m too afraid to take the risk, put everything on the line and be labeled a failure. But I wish I wasn’t.